Shakespeare Theatre Company / Baryshnikov Productions / Big Dance Theater
“Man in a Case”
December 5, 2013
by George Jackson
copyright 2013 by George Jackson
Not at a bad idea at all! Anton Chekhov’s two rather different stories, “The Man in a Case” and “About Love”, give an already legendary performer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, the chance to exercise two skills - characterization and projecting mood. The task is easier said than done. The first story’s protagonist, a school teacher, is rigid. This man’s every act devolves into a ritual of minute details. He has so many fussy traits it seems miraculous that anything practical results from his efforts. Yet he can suffer. The other story’s focus is a man in a state of unrequited love. He’s hard working and sociable but not noticeably an odd character. One might describe him as having soul. How the team that adapted, directed and choreographed Chekhov’s tales – Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar - and the production’s star apportioned external characteristics and internal state to the two antiheros determined this “multimedia” play’s shape, substance and success.
The school teacher has so many marked habits that he becomes a caricature. He dresses fussily, has an array of locks on his door, and puts everything transportable into carrying cases. Has he soul? He must, for he dies of disappointed love. I didn’t, though, see soul on stage in Baryshnikov’s portrayal. Compared to the quite similar Prof. Unrat played by Emil Jannings in the classic movie, “The Blue Angel”, Baryshnikov’s school teacher is inhuman. Jannings was able to combine pedantry with credible spontaneity and give us a complete if flawed person. Baryshnikov shows us only the rote creature in the first of this pair of Chekhov tales. For the second story, he almost goes to the other extreme. His unconsummated lover is a little too stiff, a little too colorless externally. He does though, project mood from within. There is palpable longing. And there are a few phrases of dance, when this unsatisfied lover tries to loosen up, that remind those who saw the young Baryshnikov move how he could touch our hearts.
The staging, too, goes to extremes. For the first, the school teacher’s story there’s too much going on. It is a busy yet pedestrian stage for the supporting players (Jess Barbagallo, Tymberly Canale, Chris Giarmo, Aaron Mattocks, Tei Blow, Keith Skretch). For the second, the unrequited love tale, the cast is even directed for a while to doze off. Best of the multimedia were Jeff Larson’s videos giving alternate views of the live action or non-action. The actors were visibly miked. Possibly this enhancement interfered with audibility for those in the audience sitting close to the stage. Baryshnikov’s enunciation, for me, often proved to be incomprehensible. Having copies of the translated stories was a bonus for those receiving press kits. Why not do it for the entire audience? The Chekhov ought to be recommended reading for all!
Photos, both by T. Charles Erickson.
Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Man in a Case."
Mikhail Baryshnikov, Tymberly Canale and Aaron Mattocks in "Man in a Case."